Alabama adopted the concept for a mock state government program for high school students from its sister state of Georgia, then quickly positioned itself as a leader for Youth Legislature programs throughout the nation.
The YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs was born of an idea first proposed during a planning session of the Alabama YMCA Youth Legislature. Indeed, Alabama helped start Youth In Government programs in Florida and Tennessee.
Alabama is the only state Youth Legislature to hold an electoral college, wherein delegates from various districts come together to elect candidates for major offices. Alabama also can claim the nation’s first Youth Legislature Special Session and the country’s first Youth Legislature program for college students, the Collegiate Legislature.
The distinctive history of the YMCA Youth Legislature began in December, 1948, when the Selma YMCA, under the leadership of Paul Grist and Jere Hardy, invited Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y representatives from throughout the state to a special meeting called to study the success and benefits of the Georgia Youth Assembly.
From this meeting, the decision was made to begin an Alabama YMCA Youth Legislature, in which young people actually could experience how the legislative process works, and develop skills inherent in that process as part of their formation as future leaders.
Paul Grist asked Bill Chandler, of the Montgomery YMCA, to provide the program’s adult leadership. However, from the very beginning the decision was made to make student delegates co-partners in all aspects of planning and operation. Indeed, today the Youth Legislature is largely led, year to year, by its student participants.
With the elements of a program in place, the first Alabama YMCA Youth Legislature convened, in the Spring of 1949, in the Hall of the House of Representatives in the State Capitol in Montgomery. This first body consisted of only a unicameral Legislature, with Bill Bell of Selma serving as its Speaker. In 1950, the Youth Legislature became bicameral with the separation of the body into a House of Representatives and a Senate. Also in that year, Youth Legislature elected its first Governor, Jack Noble of Montgomery.
Over the years, Youth Legislature has expanded to allow for a Governor’s Cabinet, as well as the establishment of a Judicial Branch in 1979. Today, a Supreme Court sits concurrently with the Sessions of the Youth Legislature, to determine the constitutionality of its enactments.
In order for Youth Legislature to replicate the “real” experience of the legislative process, other student participants serve as lobbyists advocating a variety of positions, and pre-teen students serve as Pages in each of the two houses of Youth Legislature.
Also, from its inception, each house of Youth Legislature has a full “desk staff”, headed by a Secretary of the Senate and a Clerk of the House, to execute the administrative functions of each house through the processing of bills and resolutions. Each house also maintains a journal of its floor proceedings.
Almost from the beginning, Youth Legislature has had as a part of its Sessions, the participation of student reporters, who write and publish Tomorrow Today, the official daily newspaper of Youth Legislature. For several years, Youth Legislature also provided its own television reporters who wrote, produced and anchored their own television news program, “Y Witness News”. Hopefully, with the assistance of Alabama television and radio stations, this vital aspect of Youth Legislature will be reinstated.